From the Blog

Tank Full of Gas, Chapter 15: Camp Creek, OR

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The goal this summer is to go camping once a month. We had great luck with the weather on our last trip. It was chilly and windy, but there were bright, crystal-blue skies on the coast and we couldn’t believe our good fortune. So for this trip, I got a little overconfident. It had barely rained in Portland all week. 30% chance of precipitation on a mountain means probably no rain, right? And “chance of thunderstorms” means there probably won’t be a thunderstorm, right? Right? Doesn’t the power of positive thinking count for anything?


As usual, we loaded up the car Thursday night, packed the cooler Friday morning, bid farewell to hot showers, then went to work dressed as lumberjacks. I was dressed in the clothes I would be wearing all the weekend. We watched the hours tick by at work and Camper Dave seemed pleased that any chance of thunderstorms were forecast to be over by the time we arrived. I was more concerned about it being cold. The last camping trip just a few weeks ago was so, so cold. I wasn’t worried about rain.

After work we hit the road for Camp Creek. It was hazy and sort of sunny in Portland, but as we headed east, the clouds got thicker and darker. We got spits of precipitation as we drove to the campground, but somehow I was still under the impression that we would not be camping in the rain.

We were able to reserve a site at Camp Creek few weeks ago. So we didn’t have to rush around like nuts, hoping to secure a non-reserved site. As much fun as that is. It was an easy drive from Portland. We had an inkling about this camp area from a drive-thru visit last summer. We like to scout campgrounds when we go on road trips, to see if we’d want to camp there later. We knew that this campground was set deeper into the woods than say, Tollgate campground a few miles down the street, where you can see and hear the traffic on 26 through the trees. Ick.

We got there and our campsite was amazing. It was perched right above the Zigzag River. The site was open and clean, but was still sheltered from neighbors by trees and a huge downed log.


This was the view from our campsite. The river was swollen and quick, and no doubt, cold. I didn’t touch it. This river drains Zigzag glacier mere miles away.

The ground, the picnic table, and everything else was wet. We unpacked and began to set up camp and it was, um, misting. DIFFERENT than rain. I was still holding out hope that maybe we wouldn’t get rained on. The tops of the trees seemed to capture and hold the fog in their top most branches. And to put the final nail into my sunshiny positive thinking, we heard a low rumble of thunder echo off the mountain. Positive thinking is such bullcrap.

We took inventory and agreed that it would be wise to set up at heavy, unwieldy canopy over the picnic table. Assembling that thing is a fricken endurance test of any relationship. Any in-love couple should buy one of those things and try to assemble it together. If you can set up a goddamned canopy without killing each other with hatchets, everything else will be smooth sailing.

We set up the tent as quickly as possible. It was “misting” pretty hard, but it was the big approaching swells of thunder that made us move our butts. We piled all the sleeping stuff in the tent. We set up the wet picnic table with a table cloth and all the related cooking gear. We made it through the set up process without a downpour. So we went for a walk.


All of the sites were big and well-spaced. The sites on the river side had less underbrush for privacy, but there was plenty of space between them.


This was all under snow less than two months ago.


This is site 8, next door to our site. The river is just beyond those trees. We tried to reserve this site, but it is booked for the rest of the summer. We were in site 9, and it was just as good as this one. We went back to our site to make dinner and sit by the fire.

As the evening progressed, sometimes the mist let up, or sometimes it fell harder. We looked for the falling drops against the dark branches. By the time it was full dark, it was pouring out. We cleaned up dinner dishes and neatened up as best we could. One of the corners of the canopy was broken (see opening goddamned canopy story above), and it was collecting a heavy puddle of rain. I gingerly tried to tip the water out and ended up soaking myself. Dammit! I wasn’t planning on changing my clothes for another 36 hours!

As it was pouring down rain, we fashioned a couple emergency splints to lock that side in place. It took about half an hour in the dark and rain to figure it out. Have you seen the Disney cartoon where Goofy, Micky and Donald Duck go camping? It was like that. We still did not kill each other with hatchets.

We each did our final evening trip to the pit toilet (lovely), washed up, and then headed into the tent. It felt fairly dry, considering it was pouring out. We assembled the air mattress and the sleeping bags and fell asleep listening to the sound of the river and the sound of the rain soaking our tent. Excellent. At least the temperature was nice. No frostbite.

The next morning, the rain had subsided. We had a nighttime raccoon visitor who made off with a can of mixed nuts. If they eat anything else, we didn’t notice. I was very busy coming up with the best idea EVER.


Fire roasted bacon. Why not? It got a little singed, but in general, it was a completely valid way to cook a slice of bacon. Probably lower fat, too. I’m health conscious.

After breakfast, we went for a walk.


This campground is as pretty as you could hope for.


Here is our campsite from the other side of the river.


Our site was most excellent.


I’m a bit in love with this campground. Except for the ferns. I can do without ferns.


People, ferns are up to no good.


It was hard to capture how dense and quiet and gray this stand of forest was. There was no breaks in the forest, just acres of thick trees that blotted out the sky. My camera even made it too red. In reality, everything was gray.

Along a fire road, the rhododendrons were blooming.

We strolled back to camp, took a breather and decided to hit the road to get more drinking water. There was a hand-pumped well that they claimed was drinkable. But the water was bright orange and we decided to pass. We also wanted to drive to see other campgrounds in the area.


So, ha, funny, we get around to the east side of Mt Hood on route 35 and its sunny. Cute!

We drove all the way to Hood River, and had yet ANOTHER crappy lunch there. Seriously, people. Hood River is fricken gorgeous. Adorable little town. But haven’t yet had a nice lunch there. If you have suggestions on where to eat in Hood River, please let us know. I want to love Hood River. Please.

We looked at four campgrounds on this drive. Here’s a summary:

Nottingham and Sherwood both had interesting sites, but many of them felt parched and exposed. The East Fork Hood River here is very rocky and many stands of trees were bleached white skeletons. We would camp in either in a pinch, but there are nicer spots close by. Also, avoid Toll Bridge County Park, unless you have a 40 ft RV and you want to park in a grass field.

We popped into Rouston County Park and crept down a steep gravel road. This road was not meant for RVs at all. There was a loop with flush toilets (wow! flush!) and then a couple rustic sites near the East Fork Hood River. Across the river was a giant stone cliff. This would be the place to go if you need to car camp, but want to feel like you are really roughing it. These sites were remote and it was very pretty. But the odd combination of some maintained sites and some in disrepair felt a little creepy to me. Like the place hasn’t been used much. Like if you fell asleep, you might wake up with all your teeth missing. There was one truck with a camper. Besides that, deserted. Very pretty for self-sustained campers.

We drove all the way down to a remote but large campground near Lost Lake. It was remarkably not easy to find. It was far from any civilization. But at over 120 sites, it was the size of a small city. The campground had its own store. There were a few different loops catering to RVs or tents. It was on the western flank of the mountain, tucked under the blanket of clouds. Even though it seemed to be about 10% filled with mostly tent campers, it still seemed bustling.

It was pretty, even under the clouds, with Mt Hood obscured. For our taste, we prefer smaller campgrounds with intimate sites. But this campground would be great for families and people who prefer a more communal atmosphere when camping.

If you haven’t spent any time driving on route 35 or in the “fruit loop” area between Hood River and Mt Hood, please stop what you are doing and get in your car. This area has to be one of the most gorgeous spots on earth. The kind of place that makes you want to quit your job, leave all your stuff, and find a way to be an apple farmer. Or a vineyard farmer. Or a computer professional that doesn’t work at all works from home. Or a writer that churns out honey-dripped prose sitting on her grand front porch. Sigh.

I have to say, Camper Dave is getting very good at 55 MPH photography.


This is heading back around the mountain to the west side. Note to selves: camp on the sunny side of the mountain next time.


Back under the clouds.

We went back to the campsite and began drinking wine. And then, some more wine. We sat in front of the fire and drank wine until we were both silly and giggly. Wine and campfire made the thunder, rain, pit toilets and camp zits all worth it.

Sunday morning, it was misting again. We struck camp with a wet tent, wet canopy, wet sleeping bags and mud covered tent footprint. We shoved everything into the back of the car. We were gone by 10 am. When we got home, we pushed our furniture to the periphery of our apartment to dry everything out. Laundry, hot shower, nap.

Camping in the rain sucks. But it is so, so worth it.

Chapter Fourteen: Camping On The Coast, Part 1, Part 1.5, Part 2
Chapter Thirteen: The Gorge, Stonehenge, Hood River, Mt Hood
Chapter Twelve: The Oregon Coast
Chapter Eleven: Oregon Wine Country (hic)
Chapter Ten: Astoria, Oregon
Chapter Nine: Panther Creek Campground, WA
Chapter Eight, Green Canyon Campground, Mt Hood, Oregon
Chapter Seven, Spruce Run Campground, Coast Range, Oregon
Chapter Six, Bend, Oregon
Chapter Five, Seattle, Washington
Chapter Four, Mt Saint Helens, Washington
Chapter Three, The Gorge and Hood River, Oregon
Chapter Two, The North Coast and Astoria, Oregon
Chapter One, Waipi’o Valley, Big Island, Hawaii


  1. Meredith says

    The pictures are amazing!! I didn’t know green could be so green!! That first picture looks unreal!! With the trees and river down below!! And ferns aren’t that bad!! Reminds me of childhood. You guys are going to be experienced campers in all weather. You should take a journal with you and write a book, Campers guide to the Portland area. Be quirky and have lots of pictures and things a person would want to know when going to these campgrounds.

  2. I have watched your blog for awhile, currently obsessed with Oregon and love seeing all of your pictures from the Tank Full of Gas series. Just curious – what type of camera do you use? Your pictures are amazing!!

  3. Thanks for reading, Cathy! My camera is a Sony DSC-T20. It’s a point and shoot. It’s the size of a deck of cards. It’s small enough that it lives in my purse. I realized I’d rather have a small, simple camera that I take everywhere, than a giant foo-foo camera that is too big to lug around.

  4. I am v jealous of your camping adventures, and have been actively pursuing a camping partner. I might raid my friend’s camping closet soon – I need to get out into the forest.
    Lovely photos! And the weekend was muggy in the city, too, though not especially rainy.

  5. De-lurking to give Hood River food suggestions: you should eat at the Full Sail Brewery next time you’re in Hood River. Good food, good beer.

  6. mmm…Full Sail Amber is my favorite, thankfully I can get it here in NM.

    Heather – loved the camping story, I kept waiting for something really bad to happen…glad it didn’t!

  7. Every time I drive through Hood River Valley, I have those two thoughts: this is the most gorgeous place on earth (outside of maybe Big Sur which is resembles), and, hey I *am*a computer professional who works at home — why don’t I live here?

    I stayed once at Rouston campground, making it a pit stop on the way out to the Strawberries. Was not a bad place at all (I rather like it rough), though too close to the highway for my taste. Ick :)

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